It is a term that will be heard and talked about very frequently in the coming days. The reference will be to the climate change conference scheduled to take place in Paris in November and December this year. An annual meeting, this year it is expected to deliver a major agreement on the action plan for saving the planet from the disastrous consequences of rising average global temperatures.
The term ‘COP’ stands for Conference of Parties. ‘Parties’ is a reference to the (now) 196 signatories of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, as it is called. The Framework Convention came into force in 1994, two years after its text was finalised at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
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Every year since 1994, the ‘parties’ to the UNFCCC have met at different venues at the end of the year to discuss a global agreement to cut emissions of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the main reason why average global temperatures have been rising.
The Paris meeting will be the 21st in that series, hence the name ‘COP-21’.
It was COP-3, in Kyoto, Japan, that gave rise to the Kyoto Protocol, that placed international obligations on the set of rich and industrialised countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by assigned amounts. The Kyoto Protocol, which came into effect only in 2005, has since run into trouble, with some countries, which were obliged to take emission cuts, having walked out of it. Though the Protocol continues on paper for the time being, the current negotiations at the COPs are about bringing in an agreement that will demand some kind of action from all countries, not just the rich and industrialised. The actions expected from the countries are supposed to be in accordance with their capabilities.
An earlier attempt to forge such an agreement was made at COP-15 in Copenhagen in Denmark in 2009, but it failed spectacularly. After two years of further negotiations, the countries had decided that a global agreement on climate change must be delivered at the COP-21 in Paris in 2015. However, with fewer than 200 days to go for the Paris conference, deep differences persist on several issues, and the frantic pursuit of a compromise continues.